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Pacific nations

Former coup frontmen hot favourites in Fiji election

  • Sitiveni Rabuka’s supporters say they’re confident about a win, but analysts expect incumbent Frank Bainimarama to stay in power
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 11:06pm

Two former coup leaders are seen as the leading contenders in Fiji’s general election on Wednesday, the second to be held since 2006 when commander of the armed forces at the time Frank Bainimarama seized power.

The former British colony of more than 300 Pacific islands, with a population of about 910,000, was suspended from the British Commonwealth and isolated diplomatically after the bloodless takeover.

Bainimarama stood down from the military to run as a civilian in the country’s 2014 elections, winning in a landslide, and the country has been welcomed back into the international community, enjoying a visit in October from Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan.

Former prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka, who led two coups in 1987, is the main opposition candidate.

Rabuka leads the Social Democratic Liberal Party of Fiji, known as Sodelpa, which is running on a platform of government transparency. But he will not know until Monday afternoon whether he is eligible to be elected after being accused of deliberately breaching financial disclosure laws.

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On Saturday he was questioned by police over an unrelated matter concerning a debate with Bainimarama about the National Bank of Fiji last Monday, according to Sodelpa general secretary Adi Qionibaravi.

Despite the setbacks, Sodelpa could beat Bainimarama’s FijiFirst party, Qionibaravi insisted.

“We are very confident,” she said.

But Stewart Firth, an Australian National University (ANU) Pacific Islands research fellow, said Bainimarama had the advantage of incumbency and was likely to win. He said Bainimarama had the support of about 80 per cent of Fijians of Indian descent, who are the country’s largest minority, while Sodelpa is regarded as a pro-indigenous Fijian party.

The ANU researcher said there was a chance of a coup attempt if the opposition were to win an upset victory because the army supported Bainimarama, even though the military had promised to accept the result.

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The elections will also be contested by the National Federation Party, the country’s third-largest party, led by economics professor Biman Prasad.

The NFP’s campaign manifesto says its priorities are a living wage for workers and farmers and lifting “the climate of fear that covers our country”. Pre-poll voting ended Saturday afternoon ahead of a 48-hour media blackout that begins on Monday before the November 14 general election.